The financial crisis has touched fashion as any other industry. Fashion houses go bankrupt, sacking designers and influencing the job market. But there still are entrepreneurs who take chances and dare to go against the flow. Sofie Claes graduated from the Amsterdam Fashion Institute two years ago and she has just launched her own label: Wolf.by Sofie Claes and her first collection is now in stores. We visit her studio, which is located in a warehouse in Antwerp South where we are offered a drink that she made herself. Kefir is a fresh, carbonated, light-alcoholic milk drink, which is made out of a mixture of different lactic acid bacteria. "Kefir is very healthy for you. If you go to a bar, would you ever consider ordering it?” With one project still pending, Sofie is already thinking of the next challenge.
The Flanders Fashion Institute (FFI) had invited me to participate in the Belgian showroom in Paris and that set everything in motion. Wolf.is received very well in Belgium and now Japanese buyers are showing interest too. My dream is to sell in Japan, because they love Belgian designers. Japanse designers like Yamamoto and Comme des Garcons appeal to me enormously, but I am more deeply impressed by our own local talent. Margiela has a crazy way of working. I love the poetry behind the collections of Ann Demeulemeester and the German label Bless is on my radar too. Bless is a group of designers who have a studio in Paris. They also make objects.
The building is huge and I'm not the only fashion designer here. Lenny Leleu and Ti + Hann are my neighbours, but also other disciplines such as illustration, painting, social design and communication are represented.
In Amsterdam they really work hard to prepare students for the professional life which comes afterwards. I took courses in economy, branding, marketing...The fashion shows of the Antwerp Fashion Academy are fantastic and very experimental. But how do you sell such pieces? Graduation collections in Amsterdam are commercial and wearable, but they’re not less interesting. I'm glad that after studying in Paris for two years I decided to move to Amsterdam.
It has always been my goal. Originally I wanted to gain experience by working for other fashion houses, but applying for a job during the crisis didn’t go that smoothly. So I thought, why don’t I start up my own label? I first worked in India, but shortly after that, I moved back to Antwerp, wrote a business plan, filed a request at the Participation Fund and six months later, Wolf.by Sofie Claes was born!
Yes, it is still difficult. When I moved to Antwerp I already had a few connections. The situation was different in Amsterdam. But thanks to the support of the FFI, I quickly expanded my network and I received a lot of media attention thanks to a Flemish press agency I encountered in Paris. Wolf.by Sofie Claes is a double full-time job: I organize the photo shoots and my boyfriend (Bram van Stappen) photographs the collection. But I am also responsible for the patterns and the entire design process, whereas I leave the production to Belgian companies.
Wolf. is a qualitative Belgian label. I design everything myself and I want to make sure that everything is produced in the way I want it, which is virtually impossible if you work with contacts from abroad. Moreover, my production is so small that it’s financially impossible to take it abroad. I would like to keep the fashion industry in Belgium. There are so much great suppliers and manufacturers here and I hope the consumer is willing to pay the extra cost for this quality.
I am fascinated by the Suprematism of the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich. In the 20s he painted a black square on a white canvas, which must have been very shocking at the time. Malevich wanted to get to the essence by elimination. I follow the same philosophy in my design process. I am a constructivist / deconstructivist and a minimalist.
I've always felt the urge to provide a total image; therefore I pay a lot of attention to jewellery, handbags and shoes. This is the first time I designed a handbag and next time I hope to have found a solution for the shoes’ production, because shoe design in small editions is impossible. I have collected so many ideas for shoes! I am certainly interested in future collaborations.
We continue sipping kefir. "Here's a jar. Take the grains home. Then you can brew it yourself. My parents have been into macrobiotics for a long time, I've learned a lot from them." And from that moment on, kefir grains have been fermenting in the Coffeeklatch fridge.
Coffeeklatch is a creative chitchat, an original and personal way for Magali Elali and Bart Kiggen to go and look for inspiring personalities and intriguing stories. The online magazine showcases pictures and interviews with creative entrepreneurs in their homes, addressing various disciplines. Coffeeklatch stands for slow journalism using a fast medium. Read More
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